The immune system is the body's protective mechanism to prevent infections and disease. In some cases, however, the immune system will react to a harmless substance like a food or pollen. The immune system attacks the “invader” and tries to remove it from the body with symptoms like nasal drainage, diarrhea, or vomiting. Foods, pet dander, molds, mildew, pollen, grasses, fibers, and many other substances can cause allergies in susceptible people.
A true allergy usually persists for many years, if not for life. The immune system develops a “memory” of the offending substance (allergen) and may react years later when the patient comes in contact with the allergen again. Sometimes food allergies have more to do with a child's immature digestive system and are not true allergies. Children may outgrow food allergies. What seems to be a cure could be due to a change in environment, like moving from an area with lots of ragweed to an area where it doesn't grow. Although allergies can't always be cured, they can be managed with regular medical care.
One of the first steps in allergy management is to identify the allergen. For example, a person who has an allergic reaction in a particular building might be reacting to dust, molds, or pets. Allergy testing can help identify the allergen -- both skin and blood tests are available. In some cases, the patient can then avoid the offending substance. Allergy injections are another way to manage allergies. The patient is given regular injections of a sterile serum that contains a small amount of the allergen, and the body gradually builds up a tolerance.
Allergy injections are one form of medication for allergies. Most other allergy medications are targeted toward symptom management. Antihistamines, for example, can be used for a runny nose or watery eyes. People with very severe food allergies may need to carry injectable epinephrine to prevent a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
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